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Cultural values vs. human rights: A case study

1. Abstract

The purpose of this essay is to explore the tension between cultural values and human rights. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on diversity and the need for cross-cultural dialogue. As a result, the importance of acknowledging cultural values has risen. However, there are often cases where cultural values conflict with human rights. This essay will discuss three such cases: female genital mutilation (FGM), ‘honor’ killings, and child marriages. It will also examine the UN Declaration of Human Rights in order to gain a better understanding of how it attempts to protect vulnerable populations.

2. Cultural values vs. human rights

In order to understand the tension between cultural values and human rights, it is first necessary to define what each term means.

2. 1 What are cultural values?

Cultural values are beliefs, customs, and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation within a particular culture. They shape the way we think, feel, and behave. They can be either explicit or implicit, and they can be positive or negative. Some examples of cultural values include beliefs about gender roles, marriage, and parenting.

2. 2 What are human rights?

Human rights are fundamental rights that every person is entitled to regardless of their nationality, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or other status. They are based on the principle that all humans are equal in dignity and worth. Human rights include the right to life, liberty, and security; freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; and the right to equality before the law, among others.

2. 3 The tension between cultural values and human rights

There is often a tension between cultural values and human rights because some cultural values can violate human rights. This is especially true for vulnerable populations who may not have the same power or resources as other groups within society. The following sections will discuss three specific cases where cultural values have conflicted with human rights: female genital mutilation (FGM), ‘honor’ killings, and child marriages.

2. 3.1 Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a practice that involves the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is usually performed on girls between the ages of four and fourteen (WHO, 2018). FGM is typically carried out by traditional circumcisers using knives, scissors, razor blades, or glass shards; however, it can also be done using chemicals or burning (WHO, 2018). FGM is usually motivated by a combination of factors including social pressure, belief in hygiene and cleanliness, religious reasons, and attempts to control women’s sexuality (WHO 2018). FGM has serious consequences for both physical and mental health; it can cause severe bleeding and problems with urination, as well as lead to infections, cysts, infertility, painful intercourse, anxiety, depression, and flashbacks (WHO 2018).

FGM is a clear violation of human rights because it is a harmful practice that causes physical and psychological suffering. It also violates the right to equality because it is usually performed on girls who have no say in the matter. In 2012, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning FGM and calling for its elimination (UNGA, 2012). In 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a global ban on FGM (UNGA, 2014). Despite these resolutions, FGM is still practiced in many parts of the world.

2. 3.2 ‘Honor’ killings

‘Honor’ killings are murders that are committed by family members against other family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family. The victims of ‘honor’ killings are usually women, and the most common reasons for their murder are adultery, premarital sex, rape, and relationship with someone outside of their religion or caste (UNOHCHR, 2016). ‘Honor’ killings violate the right to life and the right to security because they are often motivated by a desire to protect the family’s honor, rather than by self-defense or another justifiable reason. According to a report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), 5,000 women are killed each year as a result of ‘honor’ violence (2016).

2. 3.3 Child marriages

Child marriage is a marriage where one or both parties are under the age of eighteen. Child marriages are often motivated by a desire to control female sexuality, reduce the financial burden of raising a child, or consolidate political alliances (UNICEF, 2018). Child marriages violate the right to equality because girls are often married off without their consent and against their will. They also violate the right to life because child brides are at a greater risk of domestic violence, disease, and death during childbirth (UNICEF, 2018). According to UNICEF, 12 million girls are married each year as children (2018).

3. The UN Declaration of Human Rights

The UN Declaration of Human Rights is an important document that attempts to protect vulnerable populations from human rights violations. It was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 in response to the atrocities committed during World War II. The Declaration consists of thirty articles that set out the fundamental rights and freedoms that every person is entitled to (UNGA, 1948). These rights can be divided into three categories: fundamental rights and freedoms, civil and political rights, and economic social and cultural rights.

3. 1 History of the UN Declaration of Human Rights

The UN Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by representatives from different legal and cultural backgrounds from all over the world. The drafting process took two years and resulted in a document that reflects the values of equality, justice, and respect for human dignity (UNGA, 1948). The Declaration was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 (UNGA, 1948).
Since its adoption, the Declaration has been widely recognized as a milestone in the history of human rights (UNGA, 1998). It has served as a model for subsequent human rights instruments and has been cited in numerous court cases (UNGA, 1998). In 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted two binding treaties that give effect to the provisions of the Declaration: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (UNGA, 1966a; 1966b). To date, 196 states have ratified one or both of these treaties (OHCHR, n.d.).

3. 2 The content of the UN Declaration of Human Rights

The UN Declaration of Human Rights consists of thirty articles that set out the fundamental rights and freedoms that every person is entitled to, regardless of their nationality, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or other status (UNGA, 1948). These rights can be divided into three categories: fundamental rights and freedoms, civil and political rights, and economic social and cultural rights.

3. 2.1 Fundamental rights and freedoms

The first category, fundamental rights and freedoms, includes the right to life, liberty, and security; freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; freedom from slavery and servitude; and the right to equality before the law, among others. These rights are considered to be essential for the existence of a free and dignified human being.

3. 2.2 Civil and political rights

The second category, civil and political rights, includes the right to freedom of expression; the right to freedom of assembly and association; the right to freedom of religion; the right to vote; and the right to a fair trial, among others. These rights are considered to be essential for the functioning of a democratic society.

3. 2.3 Economic social and cultural rights

The third category, economic social and cultural rights, includes the right to work; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to education; the right to health; and the right to cultural life, among others. These rights are considered to be essential for a dignified human existence.

4. Conclusion

This essay has explored the tension between cultural values and human rights. It has discussed three specific cases where cultural values have conflicted with human rights: female genital mutilation (FGM), ‘honor’ killings, and child marriages. It has also examined the UN Declaration of Human Rights in order to gain a better understanding of how it attempts to protect vulnerable populations.

The tension between cultural values and human rights is likely to continue as long as there is diversity in the world. However, it is important to remember that human rights are universal and should be respected by all cultures.

FAQ

The main cultural values that conflict with the UN Declaration of Human Rights are those that promote discrimination, such as sexism, racism, and homophobia.

These cultural values contribute to human rights violations by creating an environment in which certain groups of people are treated as inferior to others and are denied basic rights and protections.

It is important to consider both cultural values and human rights when making decisions affecting people's lives because we need to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

We can reconcile conflicting cultural values and human rights in a way that respects both sets of principles by engaging in open dialogue and discussion, considering different perspectives, and working towards compromise where possible.

Some possible solutions for addressing conflicts between cultural values and human rights include education and awareness-raising initiatives aimed at changing discriminatory attitudes, laws and policies that protect vulnerable groups from abuse, and international pressure on countries that violate human rights.

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